An idyllic spot on the English Welsh border now plays home to the glamping, camping and event business, Barnutopia after Steve and Katrina Boydon took on the full-time project in 2015.
Having worked abroad for 20 years, and most recently lived in the USA working and raising their family of four, the couple decided to return to their roots and set-up a glamping site, seeking a change of pace from corporate America.
“Both our families are from the area, hence why we picked this location to come back to. We initially stayed in temporary accommodation until we came across, and fell in love with Tanycoed Farm.
“We moved into the property during April 2015 and welcomed our first glamping guests in June the same year,” explains Katrina.
“The site was big enough for us to start the glamping business we had envisaged initially, but also had the space and infrastructure to allow us to expand the business and explore other opportunities.”
Where to start
The Boydon’s started the business in June 2015 having already spoken at length with Shropshire council about planning permission and the licenses and permits necessary to operate the business.
The family purchased three Mongolian yurts from a company in Oxfordshire and constructed a camp kitchen, leasing these out over the summer. However, in order to grow the business, they had to apply for full planning permission.
“We applied for full planning permission to install more yurts, a permanent campsite, convert two stables into a bathroom block and change the use of the long barn from agricultural use to an event venue.
“We completed all the planning ourselves were very pleasantly surprised by the help and encouragement given by Shropshire Council.
“For example, although they initially asked for architect’s drawings, we could show them that we had no plans to change the building exterior or footprint and they waived that requirement. We also agreed to install bat boxes with the ecology officer and were able to prove we had enough parking space with the traffic division. We submitted the application in November 2015 and received full planning permission in August 2016.
“It did take a long time for this to come through, but we now have no restrictions on glamping and camping, and we can have up to 15 events with 120 guests per year, with a view to review this is a year or two.
“Having the foresight to plan for expansion even before we applied for permission means that we now have everything in place to grow the business as we would like to.”
Katrina also explains that planning wasn’t the only consideration. “We’ve had to apply for a wedding license and alcohol license, as well as ensure we’re conforming to all the health and safety requirements, building regulations, fire safety and food hygiene requirements.
“These do come at a cost, but are essential for the long-term success of the business,” she says.
Growing the business
Since opening Barnutopia, Steve and Katrina have built three yurts and a cabin, converted two stables and a room over the old coach house.
They can accommodate up to 38 guests and have plans for an eighth unit, bringing maximum occupancy to 46. Including the campsite, they can host up to 120 residential glamping and camping guests. The event barn and Dutch barn have proved to be invaluable as groups hire the venue for weddings, family gatherings and birthday parties.
“For us, maximising occupancy of the glamping units and the event venue is a must, and to achieve this I’ve very much focused the marketing of the business across digital platforms.”
She explains that Facebook has had a real role to play in building the Barnutopia brand. “Many of our bookings originate through Facebook, and much of our website traffic comes through social media. Our web presence is very mature, and we optimise our website for search engines to ensure we can be found easily.
“It’s time-consuming because you have got to have the content to engage with the audience, but to date, it has really worked for us. We have also tried paid for promotions on social media to get in front of our target audience which is a very cost-effective marketing option.
“We do have twitter and also Instagram, but I have not focused my attention on these as much as Facebook. Nevertheless, it’s important to have a presence on multiple platforms. You never know which one a guest might prefer.
Katrina also explains that listings on free and paid for sites such as Airbnb, TripAdvisor, Cool Camping, Quirky Accom, Group Accommodation and Wedding Spot are a very good way of gaining visibility in a competitive market. Exposure in local publications is another way of building a presence as most have an online version, too.
“I’ve also spoken at events like the Glamping Show which have been good for building the business’ credibility and meeting other people the industry.
“The success of our business to date has been down to the relentless marketing. During the first year with three yurts, we enjoyed 92% occupancy in August. This year we were at 99% occupancy with seven units. Next year, we have nine weddings confirmed already, and only a few weekends free between April and September.”
Lessons learnt so far
When establishing any business there are always going to be lessons you learn along the way. Katrina explains what they have learnt on their journey so far. “We started the business offering short breaks for individual families but found group bookings easier to manage. During the summer, weekends are taken up almost completely with whole site bookings.
“Pricing has evolved. I researched the prices of other glamping sites, but I also completed careful cost analyses to be sure that I didn’t under-price (or overprice) our offering. It’s vital that guests get good value for money, but it has to work for us, too.”
“Knowing when to spend and when to economise is important. Not only on physical things but also time.
“We include bed linen, but ask visitors to bring their own towels, and our guests are happy with this. A towel doesn’t take up much space in guest luggage but saves us time, effort and money as we don’t have to wash and dry them. In any case, we spend most Sunday afternoons at our local laundrette washing and drying bed linen.
“To furnish our units, we tapped into auctions and second-hand shops and as a result each unit is unique. On the other hand, we bought all new hardware for the new bathroom block as clean and beautiful showers and toilets are appreciated by glampers and campers.”
“The biggest sacrifice we have made in starting Barnutopia is having time for ourselves. However, we get great satisfaction in building the business and delivering to our customers what we have set out to achieve. And truthfully, we like our guests. We love chatting with them around the campfire.
“With this type of business, you have got to either have the skill, time and enthusiasm to do it yourself or employ others to do it for you. A bit of both is ideal,” says Katrina.
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